Mary Slessor: Amasu-Arochukwu in Scottish Ten Pounds Note.

It was a pleasant surprise to many of us living in the United Kingdom, sighting the graphic illustration of the map of Amasu-Arochukwu and her neighbours on the face of Scottish ten pounds note issued by Clydesdale Bank of Scotland. Not many have heard or read about this community or could have made a guess of its location in Nigeria. I could easily relate with this legend because she lived in my compound while in Amasu. As a matter of fact, in 1988, the elders in my compound marked out a piece of land near the Onuasu river where they claimed was her first place of abode. And that place today is known as Mary Slessor’s first abode Nde -Udo- Akpiri Amasu Village.

This historic village is located in Arochukwu Abia State, the spiritual hub of Igboland and one of the greatest commercial settlements in the South Eastern part of Nigeria. The Scottish government, however, has evoked some excitements among Nigerians in the United Kingdom on the importance of these towns on their currency which they reasoned could boost tourism and enhance the re-branding campaign by the Nigerian Government. It has also resurrected the unanswered question about our culture where the labour of our heroes and heroines are undocumented, allowed to wither and swept away to the abyss.

The Scottish people had just reminded us that heroes/heroines are unquenchable light; no matter how deeply buried, their presence is always alive. They have immortalized a symbol of hope and shown that no matter how long it takes, the service of good men and women will always be rewarded.

The Servant of Slaves:

Mary Slessor was called the servant of slaves, a saint who was not celebrated. Her deed, faith, devotion, and dedication were translated into practical demonstration; these were the attributes professed by all religions. An intellectual dissection of Slessor’s mission to Africa could be summarized in these three phrases: Service to Others; Others Above Self and Trust in God.

Mary’s story started in Aberdeen Scotland where she was born in 1848 and later recruited as a missionary from the Presbyterian Church of Scotland to serve in Africa. In 1876 she sailed to Calabar with a steamship The SS Ethiopia into the unknown where no European has set foot before, the land of Calabar. According to an early description of Calabar by the Europeans, it was a head hunting tribe, superstitious to the extreme, living in squalor and violence. It was a savage land! With all these insinuations and conjectures she stood her ground and made a life changing decision.

She could be said to be one of the very few missionaries in the mould of David Livingstone who truly came to Africa with a deep mission to do God’s work and sacrificed her life to change humanity. Mary was a heroine of the eighteenth century and one of the greatest achievers of our time.

Ironically, the people that benefited from her benevolence, in today’s South East/South South Nigeria, have forgotten her legacy and jettisoned the values of her spiritual movement which were Loving and Caring for the less privileged.

Ancient African history is replete with stories of our forebears’ gross human right abuses which were characterised with the practice of voodoo, human sacrifices, and spiritualism. This probably could be the source of the early British perception of the final destination of Mary. It is also apt to add that this practice has a great effect on the economy and political whims of the society. In addition, Mary came into a society where been a man and a free born is a privileged social status. A position endorsed by the government of the day, the Ekpe Society and engraved in the traditional constitution.

Then it was abominable for a twin born; husbands were terrified during childbirth and should the birth go that way, the consequences were severe. The man would be exempted from religious functions because he would be seen as unclean, a stigma he lives with all through his life. Some victims were reported to have taken their own lives out of frustration and shame. Mazi Okoro P. Kanu wrote in his book; Pre- British Aro of Arochukw, that ‘twins were instantly put to death, until the British missionary influence the practice. Fathers of twins have to undergo ritual cleansing as prescribed by custom, to be accepted by society …..the practice in the traditional system has been to exclude twins and their parents from entering places regarded as sacred.’

Slessor was actually caught up in a very hostile environment where the Colonial administrators had no influence on the traditional ways of the people. However, she introduced the teachings of the bible and demonstrated the practice of love as preached by our Lord and encouraged the locals to live in peace with one another. She also developed their psychic to ignore the inducement by the superstitious believe pronounced by their traditional medicine men. She made it bold that no one is inferior or superior to another. According to her, men and women; slaves and masters; kings and servants are equal before the presence of God. This wake-up call and sudden realization transformed her home into a place of refuge for runaway slaves, twins and their parents. She dared the native gods and went against the traditional laws which were fashioned out to appease the gods. These unthinkable acts; standing against the decrees of the native gods almost put her to death. But she escaped the wraths of the traditional chiefs in many instances, an act seen by indigenes as supernatural and perhaps the magic of her God. This eventually won many natives to her church.

To stop the killing of twins without the blast of a gun should be seen as one of the greatest achievement the feminine gender has contributed to humanity. We must remember that scores of wars were fought to stop slave trade which still exists in some parts today but Mary used the power of Love, Faith, and Resilience to change man’s inhumanity to man.

At Aro

Mary entered Arochukwu through Onuasu River in Amasu, then seaport and a strategic window of the Aros, and settled there for a while before she was chased out with scorpions and snakes by the community. She later relocated to Amanagwu-Arochukwu where she started the Mary Slessor Technical School; This establishment engaged people with basic home economics and handcrafts which later became a centre for skills and religious development for the Aros. She succeeded in starting a new life for many women and orphans, changed the stigma of being twins and converted them to Christianity. She did so much to transform Arochukwu and we are indeed very grateful today that the Church is keeping up her virtues with the establishment of Mary Slessor International centre in Amasu. This centre will continue her legacy – bring smiles, knowledge, and love to the helpless.

Honor

The Clydesdale Bank of Scotland issued £10 note in 1997 featuring Mary Slessor and the map of her missionary journey in Nigeria at the flip side. An honor only reserved for royalty; she became the first non-royal woman to feature on a currency note! We are indeed indebted to the Scottish people for recognizing the woman who influenced generational change in our society; stopped the excessive abuse of human right and empowered Aro women. It was a remarkable achievement considering the political and spiritual might of the Aros whose deity, Ibinukpabi (The Long Juju) was revered all over Igboland and beyond.

The Legacy that Matters:

As stated above, Mary left us with some basic moral instructions on how to work through life.

  • She eliminated fear from her mind; fear has stopped so many creative ideas from happening in our lives especially our communities.
  • She blocked her ears from distractions and discouragement from friends and relatives in Scotland who saw Africans as scavengers. She proved them wrong and changed perception.
  • She made it bold that superstitious beliefs are the mindset of those who fear to move to the next level. It is an excuse to fail.
  • She effectively used the power of love to win over many faithful and imbibe the discipline of moral etiquette in our community. We have the earliest educated Nigerians in our community.
  • She encouraged women to send their children to school at all cost. Mothers sold their wares to see their wards through school even if they have to borrow because their men didn’t really care.

Today we are demonstrating the legacy left by her; by touching our community with love, care and service.

Mazi Charles Eze, President, ADA.